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Charlotte Smith The Old Manor House. Why is Charlotte Smith Important?. Because she demonstrates through her work The Old Manor House many Key ideas and Values relevant to Romanticism such as: Individualism and idealism Sentimentality Challenges to Gender roles

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why is charlotte smith important
Why is Charlotte Smith Important?
  • Because she demonstrates through her work The Old Manor House many Key ideas and Values relevant to Romanticism such as:
  • Individualism and idealism
  • Sentimentality
  • Challenges to Gender roles
  • She also has significantly influenced many other Romantics such as Wordsworth

While The Old Manor House is about the American War of Independence (1775-1783) it actually expresses Smith’s opinions on the French Revolution

• It is her narrative response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections upon the French Revolution (1790) which was an influential text which criticises and opposes the French Revolution


Smith herself was politically Romantic, idealising the French revolution as a ‘symbol of political reform’

  • However in the Novel she does not reveal her Romantic values of individualism and idealism by justifying the American Cause

• instead she defends the ideals behind the French revolution by likening Britain’s immoral behaviour seen during the war with America to pre-revolutionary France thereby arguing Britain was in no position to judge the events in France


• Smith portrays the British executive as immoral in its conduct during the American War of Independence, willing to shed blood in order to:

“line the pockets of profiteering contractors, many of them members of parliament.”

• This is evident in the characterisation of Mr Woodford, a member of the nouveau riche, who by toasting to extended “Confusion to the Yankees” reveals he does not support the War for the romantic ideals of social and political reform but because it a source of major profit for him.


• Smith also questions the morality of Britain’s use of an army that is ignorant of the real motives behind the war it is fighting in America.

  • This is evident where her character Lieutenant Fleming reveals the soldiers are expected to fight unquestioningly because: “...if every man or even every officer in the service were to set about thinking, it is ten to one if any two of them agreed to the merits of the cause.”

• Smith also challenges Burke’s conservative fear of change by forcing her protagonist Orlando who did not join the war for patriotic or romantic reasons to:

“confront his own ignorance and prejudice...and begins to question assumptions he has previously accepted without thought.”

sentimentality in the old manor house
Sentimentality in The Old Manor House

“Oh! Is there not something, dear Augustus, truly sublime in this warring of the elements?” But Augustus’s heart was too full to speak M.S. Novel by Lady * * *


Sentimentality was important to the Romantics because it was believed to heighten one’s creative faculties and reveal one’s wide range of emotional capabilities

  • The Sentimental Novel aimed show that excessive emotion was evidence of kindness and goodness

Influential sentimental novels include:

•The Sorrows of Young Wertherby Goethe (1774)

• A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne (1768)

• Man of Feeling by Henry Mackenzie (1771)


In The Old Manor House a strong theme of sentimentality is achieved by the

“primacy of atmosphere over plot”

In The Old Manor House:

“Feeling is usually the story”


This is evident in that:

  • Events which would normally be considered important to plot development are only briefly summarised including:

- The deaths of many key characters such as Mrs Rayland,

- Orlando’s captivity by Native Indians

- his elopement to Monimia


Instead, Smith dedicates large passages of the novel to explaining and developing the emotions, hopes and fears of the characters:

The characters ‘reason at length about their confusions, often in long intricately articulated sentences.’


Orlando’s Mother provides an example of intricately described emotional turmoil:

“Mrs Somerive, though she had collected resolution to appear at dinner, could not conceal the agitation of her mind – Orlando so soon to leave her, and the fate of Isabella in suspense! – Her dread lest her daughter should sacrifice herself and be unhappy, opposed her wishes that she might be established in such high affluence, made her mind a chaos of contending emotions...”

charlotte smith and feminism
Charlotte Smith and Feminism

In a Ball-Room

Dancer: “May I have the pleasure of dancing the next Polka with you?”


By the end of the 18th century Melancholia was considered strictly a male condition which associated them with the Romantic notion of the literary genius

  • It had been defined as a masculine condition in many 18th century medical textbooks such as the very popular William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine (1798) which describes those of the population most likely to be melancholic as rational men:

“Men of a melancholy temperament, whose minds are capable of great attentions, and whose passions are not easily moved”


As females were not recognised as the ‘rational’ sex the female equivalent of melancholia was defined as: “ hypochondria” and “hysteria” and causing “fits near seizures”

In conclusion this meant:

  • “The Shift in definitions of the illness melancholia significantly affected society’s ability to see women as producers of meaningful literature”

Smith challenged this by using the masculine melancholic‘I’ –described as “finding a language for female experience within poetic conventions.”

  • This is evident in one of Smith’s sonnets in The Old Manor House:

“While I wander, cheerless and unblest, And find, in change of place, but change of pain....I only fly from doubt-to meet despair”


By adopting this subjective melancholy voice Smith argued that the female mind was both rational and melancholy and capable of producing work to rival the literary products of men

wordsworth the discharged soldier
Wordsworth: The Discharged Soldier

Stage Manager. "The elephant's putting up a very spirited performance to-night."

Carpenter. "Yessir. You see, the new hind-legs is a discharged soldier, and the front legs is an out-and-out pacifist."


Wordsworth greatly admired Smith describing her as:

“a lady to whom English verse is under greater obligations than is likely to be either acknowledged or remembered”

•Like The Old Manor House, Wordsworth in his poem The Discharged Soldier critiques how Britain engaged in war, its reasons for doing so and the effect it had on the people of Britain


Wordsworth expresses shock and horror to describe the plight of a soldier who is “abandoned by the same army that has rendered him unfit to return to society:”

“He appeared Forlorn and desolate, a man cut off from all his kind, and more detached from his own nature.”

  • The soldier is depicted by Wordsworth as a broken man to criticise the way in which British leaders believe human life is easily dispensable and can be “bought,” in Smith’s opinion, in order to achieve British glory

Through his use of the subjective ‘I’ to describe how the soldiers situation makes him feel Wordsworth reveals that like Smith he has a style of sentimentalism in which:

“ importance to action and situation and not the action and situation to feeling.”

• Revealing Wordsworth shared Smith’s romantic values of idealism and individualism and also a similar style of sentimentality